MAPLE FALLS - Patricia Kelly knows the household budget she had for her family a couple of years ago was lax, but her husband's two jobs were covering the bills and they had a rainy day fund, so it didn't matter much at the time.
But it mattered in early 2008 when her husband's income fell by half as the national economy tanked. He is the breadwinner while she home-schools their 10-year-old son, so her first response, understandably, was to worry - a lot.
"I reacted with fear," Kelly said. "It's not a healthy mindset."
She was far from alone. According to a Gallup poll released this month, 16 percent of Americans consider "lack of money/low wages" the most important financial problem they face.
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That topped the list of money worries, followed closely by health-care costs, 14 percent, and not enough money to pay debts, 11 percent. Unemployment was the top financial concern for 8 percent of those polled, tied with inflation and the cost of housing.
Kelly's family didn't face an immediate crisis because her husband still worked part time, but she shared that nationwide concern about not having enough money. After all, their rainy day fund began to melt away and they postponed trips to visit family.
Kelly began to think, read, and write for herself about her cloud of worry and how she could rise above her fears. She began practicing positive habits, such as reminding herself each night before going to sleep what she was grateful for, and writing "thank you" on the "for" line in the corner of her check whenever she paid a bill.
As she built a better mindset, she began the task of tracking and tightening her household budget. For the past two years, she has noted family income and spending by hand in a three-ring notebook. Nothing fancy: just learning how much money comes in, and where it goes.
"The organization gives you a sense of control," she said.
And a guide to making decisions on whether, and when, to buy something.
"Do we really need this?" Kelly now asks herself. "Is it a 'want' that can really wait?"
Kelly has long been someone who set aside her pocket change. In the past, she would collect it and then spend it. Now, she puts that money into savings.
She always shops with a grocery list, and packs lunches and snacks for family trips to Bellingham from Maple Falls. Her family also uses just one credit card, American Express, which is paid in full every month, offers a good rewards system and provides easy tracking of their spending, she said.
The family's tough 2008 impacted Kelly another way: She began thinking how she could bring extra income into the household. When her husband's income rebounded after a year, she enrolled at Bellingham Technical College to become a certified hypnotherapist and is now building her practice.
Kelly knows many families faced, and are facing, much greater financial problems. She's thankful her family managed to hold on to their health and their home, and to each other.
"That sense of gratitude reminds me how lucky I am," she said. "I'm rich in so many ways."
This is part of an occasional series on how Whatcom County residents are making changes in the recession.
ARE YOU DOUBLING UP?
Have you had to move in with friends or families because of the economy? Or are you couch surfing? The Bellingham Herald is working on a story about Whatcom County residents who have had to double up to make ends meet. If you would like to take part, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2234.
HOUSEHOLD BUDGET HELP
U.S. government website for financial education: mymoney.gov.
Consumer tips from National Foundation for Credit Counseling: nfcc.org.
Printable budget worksheets: budgetworksheets.org.
Down-home advice on finances: thesimpledollar.com.